Hunger Pangs: Embodied Narration and Emergent Subjectivity in the Early Modern Pseudo-Autobiographical Novel: Lynne Tatlock
LYNNE TATLOCK (ST. LOUIS)
Hunger Pangs: Embodied Narration and Emergent Subjectivity in the Early Modern Pseudo-Autobiographical Novel
In Knut Hamsun’s Sult ([Hunger] 1890), an aspiring writer recounts in the first person his aimless wandering through Norway’s capital. Tormented by hunger, he awakens on the first page only to spy an advertisement for Fabian Olsen’s bread, the inaccessible object of his desire. His quest for food ends pages later when, exhausted and despairing, he finally takes a job aboard a steamer and heads out to sea. In the meantime, we, the readers, have followed him around the city, experiencing with him the hallucinations brought on by hunger, his self-deception, and his struggles with his misguided sense of honor; in short, the details of his mental and emotional decline. The narrator’s account of hunger and thinking has thus permitted a look at a radical subjectivity as it inheres in embodiment. Indeed, as Isaac Bashevis Singer observes, physical suffering makes an individual of Hamsun’s protagonist: “People do not love alike; neither do they starve alike […] Hamsun took the basic human experience of hunger and made it such a highly individualistic sensation that everything common dropped away from it.”1
Hamsun’s Sult is widely acknowledged as a harbinger of European literary modernism. In its depiction of subjectivity as driven by hunger, however, this novel also exhibits an affinity to early modern autobiographical and pseudo-autobiographical fiction, this affinity in turn suggesting Hamsun’s renewal of a long enduring narrative tradition....